Mae- with their rabid polarizing effect on power-pop rock aficionados- are coming into their own finally. Two slow-burn albums on Tooth & Nail and most of their fanbase assimilated through word-of-mouth, the internet, and opening gigs for larger acts has paid off with Capitol Records scooping them up… along with their anticipated third full-length, Singularity.
Those new to the sound of this Norfolk-bred quintet will find Singularity worth the aural investment. Kicking off with a gunshot slap of the snare, "Brink of Disaster" wastes absolutely no time defining what tone and tempo the album embodies. With Howard Benson producing, it's little wonder the guitar and bass work seem to have been given the most attention. It's all very tightly delivered, with a cleaner mix than previous albums.
But speaking of Mae's past, longtime fans will give Singularity a full listen and then ask 'what happened?'. Older fans' preconceptions may be a hindrance as the mystical feel and deliberate variation that permeated Destination: Beautiful and The Everglow seems… lacking. The band's comments about 90's rock inspirations explain some of the change. It's just mildly disappointing that the magic and experimentation gives way to over-production and, perhaps, the back-and-forth of big label politics. But that's not to say Singularity is a letdown…
Mae keeps expanding their muses, so the sonic diversity is present, although subdued. Songs like "Rocket" and "Waiting" are delightfully energetic and really shy away from tired chord progressions and tempo. "Telescopes," "Crazy 8's," and "Home" feel a little more anchored in the history of their sound, and you'll find yourself singing along to tracks like "Just Let Go" after a few listens- but perhaps more because of familiarity and repetition than any real attachment to the musical aesthetic. Some of the album feels like filler tracks making the collection feel less whole.
Lyrically, Dave Elkins writes as ambiguously as ever. There's a place for declarative songwriting, storytelling, and emotional response in lyrics, but the text of Singularity seems to meander somewhere between each. Sometimes it feels forced, like jamming the title of "Sometimes I Can't Make It Alone" into a repeated, choppy chorus- more intrusive than avant-garde. Spiritually speaking, the themes revolve around relationships, friendships, life experiences and struggles… but how those relate to God is most of the time anyone's guess. And that's probably the way it's intended- to be left open to artistic interpretation. Some songs, it's possible to transpose the indeterminate 'you' and relate it to God… and then we get to the bridge in "Release Me," "So take off your shoes and stay awhile // this might be the right time tonight // if it makes you feel good then it makes me feel alright // we should take down the curtains now..." and I'll stop there, as I've blushed a little just from typing that much out.
Mae is a band of great musicians and enjoyable tunes. Singularity is a grand venture into new musical territory for new audiences and it shows. In the obvious effort to be more accessible, some of the heart of 'old Mae' has been lost. But the foundations and flourishes are still in there, driving this overall enjoyable record forward.- Review date: 9/19/07, written by David Goodman
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